Mike Cessario is the CEO and Founder of Liquid Death, an outrageous new canned water brand with quality mountain water engineered to murder your thirst! Liquid Death has made a name for itself as an extremely disruptive force of marketing, and the brand's outlandish marketing stunts are as refreshing as the water itself. To date, the brand has convinced 180,000 people to sell them their souls, has cursed its water with a real witch, and performed a reverse exorcism with an accredited warlock that allegedly put demons into the water. Customers who purchased during this time period were entitled to a coupon for $1 off any exorcism (yes, this is all for real). Recently, to further raise awareness of plastic pollution in the oceans, Liquid Death released a series of plush marine animal stuffed toys called Cutie Polluties that were bloodied and choked with plastic garbage. Additionally, as you can imagine, this is a brand whose unholy approach to marketing inspires a lot of controversy and hate, which is why Liquid Death took their favorite angry online comments and turned them into lyrics for their own death metal album. Liquid Death also has a very compelling mission, which is to eradicate the over-use of plastic bottles. According to their website, the average aluminum can contains over 70% recycled material, whereby the average plastic bottle contains only 3%. Additionally, aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable, and of all the aluminum produced since 1888, over 75% of it is still in current use. Plastic, on the other hand, technically isn't even recyclable in the first place because it costs so much money to melt it down, sending most of it into landfills and into the ocean. The planet has been overrun by plastic pollution, and Liquid Death is here to do something about it, which is why 10% of profits from every can sold help kill plastic pollution. Prior to founding Liquid Death, Mike worked in marketing with companies like Vayner Media and worked on multiple viral promotions for Netflix on series like "House of Cards," "Stranger Things," and "Narcos." The entrepreneurial origin story behind Liquid Death is extremely inspirational, and a real testament to how putting passion, fun, and personality into a brand can make it into a formidable gamechanger. We get into all of this on this very special episode of Damn Good Brands Origin Stories. Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Mike Cessario.
Throw the rules away.The world of branding is silently governed by a list of archaic rules that dictate what you can and can't do - if you want a groundbreaking brand, it's time to stop playing by these rules. During his advertising years, Mike asked himself why products, specifically in CPG, had to play by these bland and boring 1950's rules, which entertainment brands were never at the mercy of. As a result, Liquid Death's marketing is brash, violent, occasionally foul-mouthed, and extremely controversial, but as a result, it has a rabid fan base because it's so fun and different. So whether you're starting a new brand or want to do something different with an existing one, consider throwing out the puritanical rule book that's been governing the world of CPG for decades and do something new.
Ideas don't sell. Proof sells.After coming up with the idea of Liquid Death, instead of running straight towards investors, Mike decided to prove the product's viability in a low-risk manner by producing a commercial for the product before it even existed. The commercial was completely insane, became instantly viral, and Mike set up a Facebook page to gauge interest and found that there was a serious amount of demand for his product. He was even pitched by stores like 7-11. Mike then took this data, made a pitch deck, and was off to the races with investors. Had Mike walked into a boardroom with the idea for a mountain water with unnecessarily aggressive branding called Liquid Death, he probably would have been laughed out of the room. But, by showing the serious interest in the product, he de-risked the project and proved its viability. The public is dying for products as outlandish as Liquid Death, but you need to prove them before you can expect to get investors interested.
Compete within your culture, not your industry. One of the fascinating things about Liquid Death as a brand is how loyal the fans are and particularly how much merchandise they are selling. Posters, hats, sweatpants, limited edition T-shirts fly off their shelves because the company is more than a water brand; it’s a lifestyle. But it became that by taking a cue from other exciting and fanatical industries, like music, movies, and art, instead of trying to play by the rules within its own vertical. By doing that, it achieved icon status, and as a brand, it competes with entertainment properties because its marketing is always so hilarious and so insane, and fans are always on the lookout for what they're going to do next. Had they done an elaborate audit on what other brands in the water industry were doing and tried to compete by playing within their own space, the brand never would have had the impact it did. So, think outside of the box that your brand has put you in because that is the key to transcendent & compelling branding that enables truly loyal fans.